Most bass tournament anglers agree soft plastic lures like worms and grubs are so effective because of their life-like swimming, shaking, and shimmering actions, but veteran Yamaha Pro Luke Clausen reminds fishermen that worms also work when they’re dead, too.
“The term we use is dead-sticking,” laughs Clausen, winner of both the FLW® Forrest Wood Cup and the Bassmaster® Classic, “and it’s a presentation that often works when fish are not biting very aggressively.
“Basically, instead of hopping your lure to create multiple falls, or swimming it through cover, dead-sticking means just letting your worm lie motionless on the bottom after your cast, and waiting for a bass to come to it.”
The question, of course, is how long to wait before retrieving your lure for another cast, and for this Clausen doesn’t have an absolute answer.
“I’ve fished tournaments when the water was cold and you had to dead-stick your worm for 20 to 30 seconds, and other events where eight to 10 seconds was enough,” explains the Yamaha Pro. “If you feel confident bass are present where you’re fishing, then the best approach is to dead-stick your lure longer and longer until a bass finally picks it up.”
Dead-sticking can be a difficult technique to use, adds Clausen, because so much time is simply spent waiting, rather than casting and reeling. Strikes are seldom felt, and the first indication a bass has picked up your lure is when you see your line begin to move through the water.
“Always remember the fish know your lure is there,” he emphasizes. “They hear your worm the moment it touches the water, and from examples I’ve seen in aquariums, bass will swim to the lure and watch it fall. Gradually, they’ll move in closer and closer as it rests on the bottom, and finally, one will just swim down and pick it up.”
“Dead-sticking is particularly effective in colder water but it can be a productive presentation on any lake where bass receive unusually heavy fishing pressure and become accustomed to seeing a lot of lures. They’re both cautious and suspicious, and dead-sticking is certainly a non-aggressive presentation.”
The dead-sticking technique can be used anywhere, too, notes Clausen, including around rocks and riprap, beside boat dock pilings, or along the edges of grasslines. Any size worm can be used; sometimes trophy bass fishermen dead-stick 10 and 12-inch plastic worms in places they think a really big fish may live.
To make their worms look even more natural, the lures are often fished weightless or with very light sinkers, and on lighter fluorocarbon lines. Thus, when they are falling, the worms tend to glide rather than sink right to the bottom.
“Overall, dead-sticking nearly always refers to soft plastic worms,” concludes the Yamaha angler, “but actually, any lure can be fished this way, even floating surface lures. Dead-sticking just means not moving your lure after it enters the water. Smallmouth bass are famous for hitting small topwater plugs after they’ve been sitting motionless for 10 or 15 seconds, and big swim baits are sometimes allowed to float on the surface over deeper structure for 10 minutes or longer.
“It’s definitely a technique to remember.”